State and local officials will break ground Monday at Greenwell State Park near Hollywood for a lodge fully accessible to the disabled, the second such facility in Southern Maryland.
"I'm very excited about the program and I know how much it's needed there because my children use that park," said Cheryl Blazer, a St. Mary's County advocate for the disabled. Her son is developmentally disabled.
For children, the chance to spend the night at a park could foster a sense of independence, and for parents, a needed break from caregiving, Blazer said.
The $971,000 facility, financed with state funds, will include 14 beds for the physically disabled. The 3,600-square-foot facility also will include a day-use area with a picnic shelter and a comfort station. Park officials expect construction to begin soon, with completion expected next fall.
"This is one of the dreams of Mr. Greenwell. It's been a long time coming and it was visionary before its time," said Susan J. Borneman, executive director of the Greenwell Foundation, the nonprofit group headquartered at the park that works with the state in developing programs and access for the disabled.
Phillip Greenwell was an advertising and real estate businessman who, with his sister, Mary Wallace Greenwell, donated Rosedale, an estate of about 170 acres on the Patuxent River, to the state in the early 1970s. The donation came with the understanding that the park would be developed with complete access to the disabled. The Greenwells' father had been crippled by arthritis.
Later, the state acquired an adjoining 430 acres, creating Greenwell State Park. Several years ago, officials of the Greenwell Foundation demanded the return of the original Rosedale Estate, accusing the state of failing to live up to its agreement to develop the park for the disabled. But the dispute was resolved and the foundation eventually agreed to resume work with the state.
"The park of course is open to everybody, but it's really going to open up some doors for families and the disabled," Borneman said of the new facility.
Many state parks have access to limited areas, but the new facility at Greenwell will be fully accessible to the disabled--from the bedrooms, bathrooms, picnic areas to the community rooms. In western Charles County, four fully accessible cabins opened last spring in Smallwood State Park.
"The disabled can fully participate in every function and they can come as a group. There aren't many places [in the state] where they can come as a group," said John Tarrant, president of the board of Greenwell Foundation.
One successful program already at the park is a therapeutic riding program, which encourages the disabled to ride horses to develop balance, muscle control and social skills. Blazer said that with the construction of the lodge, similar programs could be developed.